Previous month:
January 2022
Next month:
March 2022

February 2022

Ukraine etc. again

I've been occupied with various immediate matters (nothing bad, just normal things) for the past few days and have not been able to get to writing about several books that I've read recently. Also pulling me away from those are the events of the past few days. And now I'm about to be away from my computer for a couple of days. So I'll just offer a couple of remarks on the Ukraine war (I guess it has to be called that now.)

I have read several things suggesting that Putin is finding that his intended conquest of Ukraine is not proceeding as quickly and smoothly as he expected. Also that the negative reaction by the rest of Europe and the U.S. has been greater than he expected. I expected Germany, France, and others to make only token objections, but what I've read--and I emphasize that it isn't all that much--suggests that they are seriously alarmed and are taking more-than-token steps. Some also speculate/hope that Putin may be willing to settle for less than the total conquest he wanted. I hope that's true.

Now I read that Putin is rattling the nuclear saber, and I think "he's not that crazy." But maybe he is. Or maybe he is resorting to the tactic of making his enemies think that he's crazy and they'd better not upset him too much. I have no idea, of course. But I hope he's not that crazy.

Also, I'm not hearing the chorus of demands that we go to war, George W. Bush style, on behalf of Freedom that I half-expected to hear from the neo-conservative/neo-liberal/whatever voices that were urging us to invade Iraq twenty years ago (not to mention various other interventions). Whether I'm just not in the way of their conversations or they're not blowing the trumpets (for others to follow), I don't know. Maybe they learned their lesson.

Anyway, you don't need me to summarize the news, but here are a couple of things you might find interesting:

This podcast, which is an interview with an emigre from the Soviet Union who worked for some time in our Defense Intelligence Agency. She thinks that our government still doesn't have the ability to understand what makes Putin and others like him do what they do.

And this Rod Dreher post, which includes an interview with a Scottish journalist, Neil Oliver, who makes a point I made in comments on the earlier post--that the most immediate threat to those of us who are not Russia's neighbors is the breakdown of our own internal liberal order. The video itself is more than an hour long, but when I clicked on it it began with Oliver's monologue. If that doesn't happen for you, skip forward to about the 5:30 mark. 

Russia, Ukraine, and Us

I hardly ever post about this sort of thing, and in most cases don't even have an informed opinion (which doesn't necessarily stop me from having an opinion, but I try to keep it to myself). That's true in this case, too. But I think this article by Michael Brendan Dougherty in National Review is an opinion worth a hearing. He argues that we have made a big mistake in expanding NATO after the end of the Cold War:

Not just predictable, but predicted. Twenty-five years ago, not long before his death, the man who pioneered the policy of containing the USSR throughout the Cold War emerged from his retirement as a cragged old man with a warning:

Expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era.

Such a decision may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking.

He would predict to Thomas Friedman in the New York Times, “Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are — but this is just wrong."

The old man referred to is George F. Kennan. Here's a link to the whole thing, but it may not work because the article is subscriber-only. Dougherty goes on to say that those who agreed with Kennan lost the post-Cold-War argument, and that those who won it have produced the current situation.

Two assertions that I think are justified even in absence of foreign policy expertise:

1) After Vietnam and all our disastrous war-making in the Middle East, the argument from Neville Chamberlain does not automatically win.

2) If there is any question of actually sending in our military, no one who is unwilling to go, or to send a child of his own, is worth listening to.

Interpol: "NYC"

I heard this song a couple of days ago as one of those semi-random occurrences when I've put a CD full of MP3 files in the car player, not entirely sure what's on it. I'd forgotten how much I like it.

This is by far my favorite song from the album, which is called Turn On the Bright Lights. It came out in 2002 and I think attracted a fair amount of attention. AllMusic gives it 5 stars (!). I'm afraid I can't concur with that rating, as I'm really not that enthusiastic about most of it. The band has put out more albums since then but I haven't heard any of them. Probably worth investigating.

On Not Watching Amazon's New Tolkien Series (probably)

There never was much chance that I would want to see this. As I've said before, probably to the point of tedium, in the end I was more negative than positive toward the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings, in spite of there being many good things about it. I won't bother to go into all that again. And I didn't even see the Hobbit movies, which seem to have been a fundamentally terrible idea, no matter how they were executed. And even if there were no other reason to avoid this new thing, I don't want a Hollywood spectacle burning its Tolkien-based imagery permanently into my brain.

The new series is based on stories mentioned in the appendices of LOTR and told in more detail in The Silmarillion. Within broad parameters, the writers are free to make things up. That's okay, but a year or so ago word got out that Amazon was advertising for an "intimacy coordinator" for the series, so that seemed to be pretty much the end of the matter.

Still, I can't help following the story. A few days ago this piece appeared at National Review. It in turn is based on an article in Vanity Fair which reveals more than had previously been known about the plans for the series. The NR writer thinks it gives cause for both hope and alarm. I don't see a whole lot of the first.

Then, while watching the Super Bowl (or rather the last half of it), I saw Amazon's "teaser trailer," and all detailed considerations about fidelity to Tolkien and so forth went out the window. It appears to be a big, loud, action movie, seasoned with cuteness and sentimentality, and that's enough to know about it.

Still, I add the "probably." It's unlikely, but I won't totally rule out the possibility that I might give in to the temptation to check it out. A well-imagined and constructed Numenor, for instance, might be a grand sight....

This article at Crisis is a pretty good appraisal: negative, but judicious and reasonable. 

A question for anyone who's more familiar with The Silmarillion than I am: is the portrayal of Galadriel as a warrior justified? I don't remember anything in The Lord of the Rings that would warrant it, but perhaps in earlier ages she took part in physical combat. I only read The Silmarillion once, and it was several decades ago. 

Portishead: Portishead

There are not all that many pop albums that enchant me on first hearing. Portishead's first album, Dummy was one. It conditioned me to have an immediately positive response to any music described as trip-hop.

I didn't hear this second album until some years later--this was pre-streaming and I had to buy the CD. When I did, I didn't like it as much and thought of it as like Dummy but not quite as good, and really didn't give it much of a chance. I listened to it again recently though and now I think that my preference for Dummy may just be a matter of which one I heard first. At any rate this one is really good. 

One mild negative that crossed my mind while listening to Portishead is that Beth Gibbons's vocal mannerisms sometimes seem to be excessive. And perhaps the songs are by a very small margin not quite as good. Or maybe it's that one or two of my favorites on Dummy (like "Wandering Star") appeal to me more than anything here. Anyway, I see that AllMusic gives Dummy five stars, and Portishead four and a half. I haven't heard Dummy for a while but I think I would concur. I haven't heard their only other studio album, Third, at all. 

This song, "Only You," is as good a representative of the album as any. The scratching was the one thing about the Portishead sound that I didn't like when I first heard it, but now it seems, weirdly, to be an effective part of the atmosphere. You could say that atmosphere is what Portishead is all about, but that would miss their brilliance.

About scratching, by the way: it took me a long time to get over being appalled by the mistreatment of the records and equipment involved. If you don't know what I'm talking about, see this Wikipedia article

What's In These Names?

Just humor, I guess:

Allen Doss, Darron Tuff, Jan Fugg, Russell Fiery, Angelo Legend, Amy Haggis, Andreas Weeder, Jasen Foul, Adolfo Slaughter, Daron Matins, Seneca Zen, Curtis Isogloss, Curt Hubble, Shea Roo, Charles Heavy, Jamie Bovver, Brant Verve, Dominick Thrawn, Jayson Nil, Hassan Sass, Jamil Point, Doyle Dyke, Bennie Fleer, Moshe Fraud, Kimberly Waker, Martin Beth, Rex Pochard, Jeffery Croon, Louis Kauri, Kenneth Disc, Bryce Fedora, Scott Grocer, Marcus de Brief, Maurice Jar, Guillermo Balk, Andy Pitt, Sammy Gearing, Leon Brandish, Norman Purple, Harold Dazzle, Esteban Woolly, Jeremie Cue, Erwin Antics, Brent Clean, Brandon Fretsaw, Cristopher Homely, Paulo Sketch, Marlin Haymaker, Derik Cayman, Mickey Mustang, Loren Sequin, Jorge Pure

I've been trying out a writing tool called Scrivener. It includes a good set of word processing tools, but goes beyond that with tools for managing a book-length project. You can have lots of separate pieces of text, from a paragraph to a chapter or whatever, and move them around easily, and these components are not separate files but are all right at your fingertips. This is a bigger deal than you might think if you've never tried to write a book and had trouble organizing it. 

And there's much more. I think it's going to be a big help to me, but right now I'm still trying to adjust to it and figure out what it can do. Poking around in the menus, I found, several levels down, something called Name Generator. I looked at it and it's exactly what the name says:


Of course I had to try it out, although I'm not writing a novel. And the names above are what I got. I couldn't understand why it would propose such weirdness for someone writing a novel. Then I realized that though I had set the first-name type to "Popular US Names (Male)," there is no corresponding list of surnames, so I checked "Potential  Dictionary Surnames." (There is a "Popular British Surnames" choice, and, oddly to an American, also "Popular London Surnames." I'll guess that it includes more non-English names.) I'm pretty sure no more than a third or so of these have ever existed in real life, though there is one that's only one letter off from that of someone I know. I suppose you might use some of them if you were writing some kind of Douglas Adams type thing. "Maurice Jar" seems un-randomly close to "Maurice Jarre". 

So if you ever come across a fictional character called Mickey Mustang, you can figure the writer used Scrivener. 

On Not Watching the Olympics

There was a time when I enjoyed watching the Winter Olympics. I found them more interesting than the summer games, and I think the reason for that was that they were more exotic. Having lived all my life in the deep south, I had never engaged in any of those sports and never would (except once--see below). Snow has always been a very rare thing for me, and mostly enjoyable, which I understand is not necessarily the case for those who deal with it all winter. Sliding down a snowy hill on a pair of skis looked like a lot more fun than plain old running and jumping. And it was certainly more interesting to watch.

My one experience of skiing, on a work-related trip to Utah with an avid and capable skier who talked me into giving it a try, showed me that, like pretty much everything that isn't bad for you, skiing was not nearly as easy as it looked.  My co-worker got me into a pair of skis and to the top of a short slope which I later learned was not for beginners but rather for those who had already learned the basics. With a casual "All you need to do is..." he zipped off down the hill and I didn't see him again until it was time for us to go. By then I had begun to get the knack of staying upright, but I couldn't figure out how to turn or slow down, so when I was heading for a tree or felt like I was getting too fast, I just fell over.

Getting upright again took some time, so since I did this every fifty feet or so I only traversed the slope three or four times while we were there. But by the time we left I was at a point where I could say "I can see how this might be fun."

That was something close to forty years ago, and it did not destroy the mild fascination that winter sports held for me. But the fascination has been dying for a while, and has now been completely extinguished. The bizarrely grandiose hype and spectacle, the breathless reporting, the manipulative shaping of some chosen competitors' backgrounds into grand heroic-sentimental narratives, the corruption that apparently goes on behind the scenes--all of that had been turning me off for a while.

The fact that China is hosting this one while engaging in terrible crimes and belligerently denouncing--or worse, if it can get hold of them--anyone who points it out only turned indifference into outright hostility. Saturday night I was in a restaurant that was showing the opening ceremony and I found myself thinking of The Triumph of the Will and other self-glorifying events staged by oppressive regimes.

This is very unfair to the athletes, I know. But blame the Chinese government and the American TV industry.